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September 29, 2019

"William Blake" at Tate Britain


[Above and below, exemplars of Blake's work featured in the Tate show]

Wrote Michael Prodger in the New Statesman:

Blake was seen by most of his contemporaries as eccentric and mediocre.

But for all his technical failings, his inventive approach made him one of the greatest graphic artists of all time.


Whatever Blake was — poet, prophet, and sage, or "Rebel, Radical, Revolutionary" as the poster to Tate Britain's extraordinary new survey of his career somewhat sensationally puts it — he was primarily, and from first to last, a professional artist.


For much of his life he spent his days as a highly regarded freelance commercial engraver; his evenings he gave over to his watercolours and relief etchings — intended as saleable products; and it was only late at night that he became a poet, composing in snatches when he had a few moments to spare.


The Tate show is an extraordinary gathering of his work, exhaustive and exhausting.

What it shows above all is how his intensity of concentration was sustained for an entire career; it never wavered.


It also shows that, for all the timelessness of his work, just how rooted Blake was in the social and artistic agendas of his time.

If he seems a very different artist from more accepted figures such as Turner and Constable there are numerous correspondences too, not least that Blake would occasionally bump into Constable when both were walking on Hampstead Heath, and was an avowed admirer of the younger man.


All three men though, in their different ways, were observational artists; while Turner and Constable were the great interpreters of the external world, Blake's focus was fixed firmly on the imaginative one.


"William Blake" runs at Tate Britain until February 2, 2020.

September 29, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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